Suzuka’s darkest day
A wet and gloomy Japanese GP became darker still, following Jules Bianchi’s terrible accident
That Sunday morning Jules Bianchi’s future took on a secret shine. He’d been strongly linked with a move to Sauber for 2015, continuing his elevation through the Ferrari-powered F1 ranks towards a likely graduation into scarlet for 2016.
A gifted young racer, with matinee-idol-ne features, he seemed increasingly to be one of those assured future stars who, while learning their craft with an F1 minnow today, would tomorrow be contending, in the thick of it.
“If a seat were to become available at Ferrari, would you feel ready to go there?” he was asked during a press conference on pre-race Thursday.
“Well, yes, of course I feel ready,” he replied, with calm, though not cocky, assurance. “I have been working for that since I’m in the [Ferrari] Academy in 2009 and I feel ready for sure. It looks like the logical step for me.”
But on lap 42 of the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, everything changed. Bianchi’s Marussia MR03, car number 17, left the track at Turn 7 and struck a circuit rescue vehicle, deployed to remove the Sauber of Adrian Sutil, which had spun into the barriers a lap before.
In the resulting collision Bianchi was gravely injured and was taken after extrication to the circuit medical centre. From there he was transferred by ambulance to the nearby Mie General Hospital, where he underwent surgery for a “severe head injury”. He remained in a critical condition, in intensive care, as F1 Racing closed for press.
The seriousness of Bianchi’s injury became apparent the moment circuit TV cameras icked to an image of Marussia CEO Graeme Lowdon, stepping stone-faced from the pitwall to sprint to the medical centre. In an instant, even before news of Bianchi’s condition had been conrmed, the race result had ceased to be of any importance. But a race had been held, and in the context of this year’s close-fought world championship it was an important one – even if, in the context of a life-threatening injury to one of its contestants, it didn’t matter at all.
Lewis Hamilton won, in a brilliant display of controlled aggression and deft mastery of exceptionally treacherous wet conditions, on this most challenging of circuits. And in so doing, he edged away again from his team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg to extend his championship lead to ten points with four races to go.
He likened the groove he found to that which he enjoyed at the 2008 British Grand Prix – a race he won by more than a minute en route to his rst world title. And while this performance was nothing like as dominant – his margin to second-placed Rosberg was nine seconds – he still had to produce something rather special to win, by snatching the lead from pole man and early leader Nico.